Friday, January 30, 2015

Goat Cuddles

(If you can't tell, April hates being picked up like this.  She is so cute, it's hard not to.)

It seems like this time of the year is always the most depressing.  The pastures are all dead, revealing how much junk is lying around, lost during the summer in the tall grass.  Tthe rye never grows, or the deer ate it already, the animals are thin and pale, the garden just froze and looks like blobs of black slime from Mordor, the chickens are molting and look like overgrown street pigeons with mange, everything's broken but we're sick with some awful cold and can't do anything about it.

Somehow people always end up coming out to visit this time of year.  People who know my dad.  I can just hear him smirking and saying, "I don't understand why they want to farm.  It's such hard work, and everything fails in Florida."

It's soul-crushing.

But this year has already been so different....

The rye is beautiful and already re-growing from several inches of rain we got last week (mowing the pastures first is the trick!).  The cows and goats look beautiful and healthy (it's the copper!).  The garden is better than ever before (hoop tunnels and permaculture beds!), the chickens are starting to lay a few eggs with very yellow yolks from eating the rye grass, and we thought people were coming out so we picked up all the junk.

Not to mention a freezer full of meat, a counter full of brined pickles, and greens and yuca in the garden.  And three calves so far, fat and happy by their mamas.

A good start to the year.

For so many years I was striving for this, striving for a feeling of success.  It took me a long time to find out, but success isn't just about how hard you try.  It's also the flexibility to fail at things, and learn from that failure, and let your imagination guide you to new possibilities and solutions.  It's about having an open mind to learning and trying new things - perhaps that idea you thought was stupid is actually the solution?  Failure is humbling, and humility makes you open-minded.

Success and failure are all tied up together.  And feeling successful is also about forgiving yourself.  Looking on the bright side.  Thriftiness - getting the most out of what you are offered.

Mostly I think what has led me here could be called stubbornness - not giving in and not giving up.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Matilda's new calf

Matilda's baby was born on Tuesday afternoon!  As usual, we got there just after she was all licked clean and was on her feet.

She's a pretty, friendly calf, although I am hesitant to be too enthusiastic.  You see, Explorer is her father, and he's Matilda's calf from two years ago.  Either she's line-bred or she's in-bred....we're not sure which yet.  The truth is, we were hoping she would be a boy for beef (Matilda has only had boys on our farm before!).

So far she's the friendliest calf we've ever had - while I was milking Matilda's huge udder to give her a little relief from all the milk she has, the calf came right over and was nuzzling my face.  She let Ethan pick her up and carry her back to the herd (she couldn't quite figure out how to follow Matilda through the gate yet).  She looks exactly like Lichen, only more unsteady on her feet.

We also weaned Nutty this week, which means we'll have cow milk again!  Although at this point, I can't even taste the goat in the goat's milk.  It just tastes like milk.  When you switch animals you get a shock of a different flavor.  The year before last this happened, and I had to get used to the overwhelming flavor of cow in cow's milk.

Nutty is huge at this point.  He has really grown up and filled out.  He's very roly-poly and has about eleven chins.  He's quite the mischief-maker.  The day we weaned him, I think Chestnut was in heat again.  When he wasn't nursing, he was trying (and failing) to mount her and everyone else.  He even tried mounting Matilda's new calf (it's not sexual at his age, more of a playful thing).  That was what decided that it was time to separate him.  It's hard enough being born without an annoying older sibling trying to dominance mount you two hours later.

He's not on his own, though.  We left him in with Sampson, his best buddy.  Sampson was getting picked on by some of the big mamas, and had horn marks on him.  He's thin because they never let him eat enough, and he needs copper.  I'm hoping to drench him with extra copper while he's separated.  And he and Nutty love to play together.  I remember Sampson was an obnoxious little thing when he was little, too.  Those boys, they are so rambunctious.

Explorer, while he has long-outgrown his playful youth, has gotten more and more bully lately.  Now that his big rival Meathead is out of the way he has lost his weak and hopeful look.  He usually stands around, tail up, brushing himself occasionally with dirt to make his muscles look bigger.  He exudes confidence and keeps his eyes half-closed with a "Hey baby," look in them, like a model in a men's magazine.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Permanent Pigs and "Good" Parenting

We are making new plans for a more permanent pig place.  It will help to keep them from damaging the pastures and woodlands, and it will be easier to manage their eating and breeding.  We have not had any new piglets, although I think Star might be pregnant again.  Bee is just fat.  She's massive, and I think running the boar with them was a bad idea.  She hogs all the food, but we have to give them a certain amount so the other ones get enough!

So this will solve the problems (we hope).  This doesn't mean they won't be pastured still.  We will have them out on the grazing lines and eating acorns under the oak trees whenever possible.  But in the middle of winter there's not much for them to eat but grass roots, and they were doing a lot of damage that way.  This will make it easier to manage their impact on the land.

On a completely different subject - there was an interesting article I saw in National Geographic about a child's brain development in the first year.  It was about how low-income children have significantly lower IQ and brain activity.  They had pictures - a "good" mom was getting spices out to teach her child the names for all of them.  The "bad" mom was snuggling her baby lovingly, but the caption pointed out that she would spend all day on the computer taking online classes to get a degree, and her baby would be propped up watching videos.  "Bad mom."

(My thoughts were - hey, her kitchen looked nice and clean, she obviously loved her little guy, and she had fed him a decently healthy breakfast.  Sometimes you just don't get to be the "good mom" you want to be.  Damn you, modern life and our heartless corporate society!)

There were suggestions for being a "good" parent.  You had to have at least 10 children's books.  You had to have blocks with colors and numbers so you can begin to teach your pre-verbal child these facts of life.  They quoted a poor, single mother who didn't want her children to be low-income retarded, saying she really wanted to raise her children right, so she was trying to afford all that educational stuff for them.

It featured a child-development expert with her child, running a constant dialogue of observations and drawing the child's attention constantly to different stimula in a desperate attempt to develop his brain. That's the New Wave Parenting - this constant dialogue with children, like TV Mom or something.

Always entertaining, checking in, pointing out, educating, passing on dry facts with no room for the physical and emotional experience of language or would make me want to SCREAM!  (Seriously, how tiresome would that be?)

But what really annoyed me about the article (apart from not even mentioning the importance of nutrition and brain development) was the suggestion that you had to buy a lot of STUFF to be a "good parent" and not have sub-average children.

But a lot of stuff and constant educational dialogue dulls us as human beings - both mother and child.  We NEED quiet, contemplation, boredom, silence.

And what better brain stimulation than spending time outside?  Even in the city there are green spaces, and clouds racing by.  What about telling stories from your heart?  Singing to your children?  Setting baby down in the grass to wiggle her toes, find leaves to play with, sticks, moss, sand.  What child needs blocks with colors and numbers on them, when infinite colors and numbers exist in the world all around us?

I'm afraid our culture is enamoured with our own arbitrary symbols, names, head-work, afraid of nitty gritty, afraid of real things, dirt, mud, life, death.  Afraid of feelings and experiences, germs, bugs, nature.  Afraid of all the wrong things.

Besides that, this is an interesting article about TV and children.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Moving On

We just finished our most intense math block of the year - introducing fractions for 4th grade, and basic arithmetic (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) for !st grade.

The 1st grade math was fun - we used a story with squirrels gathering nuts (Addition gathers them a few at a time and puts them all in a big pile, Subtraction sorts out the bad ones and the ones to put away, Multiplication gathers the nuts in groups at a time, and Division divides them up fairly).  An abacus has really helped her see what's going on and keep track of the four operations.  I wish I'd had one when I was teaching Mirin.

The fractions went well, too.  We had a (gasp) workbook we used.  It's very schooly, but Mirin kind of liked that (at first).  The nice thing about it being homeschool was that we went through and used it to introduce new ideas, but we skipped anything that he understood easily and would have just been busy work in school.  One thing that was really great with the fractions was having a batch of home made play dough on hand.  Play dough pies, snakes, and apples to slice up over and over again, and stick back together were wonderful.  We also used real apples to solve a word problem in the Number Sense and Nonsense book about sharing 17 apples between four people.  Then we made apple sauce.

It's been fun, but we're ready for something new.  I like the method of working intensely with something, and then letting it rest.  It seems like it works better than always juggling all the different subjects all the time.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Did You See Me Dwiving? (Thoughts on Creativity and Kids)

Back when Clothilde was just a little grub, a friend of mine stopped by just to pick something up.  She left her 3-year old in the car, strapped into his car seat while she ran in, but of course we started chatting for a few minutes.  Mirin was playing outside, and all of a sudden I heard him start screaming.  I threw open the front door, and Mirin was running over, yelling and pointing at my friend's car.

"What's the matter?" I said, alarmed.

"The car...he's driving the car," Mirin said.

My friend leaned out.  "Oh no, Mirin, don't worry," she said.  "I just left the car running for a minute.  He's strapped into his car seat.  He can't get out."

Just then I heard the car engine rev (I think the little booger was actually slipping down the front of the seat and stepping on the accelerator).  I looked and saw her son twisting the steering wheel with a huge grin on his face.  "No, he's out!"  I said suddenly.   "He really is out!"

Within seconds his mom had cleared the yard and yanked open the passenger's side door.  "Mommy, did you see me dwiving?" were his enthusastic words.

"No, baby," she said, pulling him out.  "That's bad."

The incident had an enormous affect on Mirin and Rose.  They both sensed the danger of the situation (thanks to Mirin we stopped him before he managed to put it in 'drive'), and our relief that he was okay.  Mirin talked about it for weeks afterwards.  Eventually it inspired a game between them that they call The Bad Baby Game.

Over the past two years the game has grown with more characters added.  They'll come up with a story line, and then act it out in a hilarious improvisational drama.  Bad Baby is the main character (always Rose, for some reason!).  He drives and smokes cigars.  You can always tell it's him, even if he's dressed up funny, because his lips stick out from a tragic beer-drinking accident where his lips got sucked into the bottle.

Dada is always trying to get Baby to behave, but he never can.  Once Baby cut Dada's hair and gave him a reverse-mullet reverse-mowhawk (what would that even look like?  This whole story just cracks me up!).  He is very allergic to anything that comes from the Kangaroo gas station, so Baby is always slipping him things that come from there.

There's also Big Brudder, who is Baby's older accomplice.  And Baby has a girlfriend.  Sometimes when Dada yells at Baby because he's not behaving, Baby's beautiful girlfriend will breeze in and they'll drive away together in a fancy car - Baby at the wheel.

When Baby gets in trouble with the police, he has a "Money Button" that he uses to bribe his way out of everything (I want one of those!).

It's become this elaborate, funny story that they have written and acted out together over the past two years.  I am awed by their creativity and what they have come up with (it also horrifies me just a little). 

One thing we don't really include in our "formal" homeschool are a lot of little crafty/creative things.  I know that sounds funny, because Waldorf education is all about integrating creative/crafty activities into learning.

Early on I tried to do more structured creative things with them, and there was so little enthusiasm.  It was just another assignment, and they would rush through it to go REALLY play and be creative.  I really think true creativity needs to be unstructured, spontaneous.  That's the struggle for successful artists/musicians/performers everywhere.  Once they've made something that really resonates, people want more from them.  And then it's a job.  Then it's not spontaneous, and they struggle with creative blocks.

There is so little time in modern childrens' lives for that kind of creative spontaneity, but I think it's so important for them to be explorers of their world in that way.  I think even we "grown-ups" could also use a break from the stresses of the day and the siren call of the Screen that distracts so many of us from our beautiful, interesting, creative world.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

In the Garden: Getting ready for Spring

 I got a lot of work done in the orchard over the weekend to get ready for spring (Clothilde helped, of course.  She took my hat and gloves when I went to get a drink!).  I pulled out all the weeds and blackberries that had grown up around the trees and bushes over last summer.  I put down kelp on the blueberries and a mineral clay on the fruit trees before mulching them thickly with old cow hay I pulled off of the pasture.  It's so different caring for these long-lived perennial plants than the garden annuals.  You don't see results as quickly, but at least it's harder to kill them.  I'm glad I am finally finding time to really care for the orchard. 

 The last few heads of Napa cabbage are massive.  We're still working our way through the second to last one.  (don't look at the laundry pile on the left, please)

 We are starting to build the summer garden, too.  We're picking up the old hay from the cows, which also has lots of manure mixed in.  I am hoping for these beds to be permanent.  I don't want to have to keep putting cardboard down.  I'm really piling on the hay in hopes that the weeds will be kept back until the season is over, and I can pile more hay on.  Perhaps a late summer cover-crop, too.

I pulled more over-planted radishes off of the carrots.  The first planting of carrots look like they will be ready soon.  It's too bad the radishes didn't work well with them, because there aren't very many carrots from the first planting.  The second planting is germinating well, though.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Barn Raising

At last, the barn actually keeps the rain out.  This was supposed to be our huge, big, extra-special project for 2014...well, we did get around to it in the end!

This will help keep the tools from rusting, keep the feed and hay dry, and will hopefully provide a spot out of the elements for processing chickens.  Last year's chicken-harvesting downpour was not super fun.

We had such a difficult week last week, getting tangled up in some local drama/misunderstanding (my mother is cackling somewhere!), a friend's ex-girlfriend's daughter committed suicide and although I did not know her well, it is still so horrible and sad...

This past weekend I just felt so....miserable.  Depressed.

My mom spent all week working on a Christmas letter to send out.  We tried to remember what we had done last year.  All I remember is having whooping cough and a hive rash for weeks, etc, etc.  But we looked over the blog for pictures, and there were all kinds of wonderful things that happened!  Rose lost her first teeth.  June Bug had twins.  The feast of Persian food we made.  All the garden vegetables.  The peaches and blueberries.  I was so glad to be reminded of those things.

The whole year looked so cheerful and productively busy.  But - here I am, feeling so tired and grouchy, and there are cactus spines in my ankles from weeding the orchard.
Writing this, Clothilde is on my lap, nursing.  She's so happy and cheerful, so glad to be here, enjoying life!  She's got such a spark.  That sense of gladness is something to carry with you no matter what.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Cows on Rye and Green Teeth

We put the cows on the rye at last.  It was so difficult to get them out at first.  We thought they would gallop out, heels kicking and horns tossing and start inhaling the rye.  But they just sat with their heads poking through the other side of the hay ring and chewed while we clapped, called, and gestured wildy, trying to indicate that the gate was open.

We tried letting the goats out on the rye to see if that would make them come over.  The goats just ran in with the cows and tasted their hay bale and got stuck in the weaning paddock next to the milking shed.

Finally Isla, who is always preoccupied with her appetite more than anyone else, waddled over,and realized the gate was actually open (duh!).  At the sound of her ripping up mouthfuls of tender grass, the other animals perked up their ears and abandoned the hay.

They came running, except for Matilda, Flora, and Twilight Sparkle.  They were all in the weaning paddock by the milking shed and got confused.  They wanted to follow everyone out the same direction, and the gate is on the opposite side.  They had to be helped out before Matilda trampled the fence in desperation.  At least the calves stayed very close to their mothers this time.

The rye looked so tender and green, even Mirin and Rose tried some.



 Clothilde had to try some, too.  The little bits she force-fed me were actually very sweet for grass.  Mirin chewed so much his teeth matched his sweater:

Monday, January 19, 2015

Lost Calves

 We got some cow's milk!!

This is big news after our family was rationed only one quart of goat's milk a day after Matilda dried up around October.  It's only a little taste of what's to come, and we only got a half gallon, but it was hard-won.

We moved the cows down to the weaning paddock.  We've got them on a bale of hay and are planning to give them careful little slices of the now lush and beautiful rye pasture.  (If we just let them loose on the rye they would probably gorge themselves into a bloat, the silly things).

The good news is that the calves are very trained to the electric fence...but they also refused to cross where the electric fence had been when we tried to move them.  All the other cows, even Sampson, moved along down the brain-cage just fine.  Only Flora, predictably enough, ducked under and ran along the wrong line and had to be herded back with the others, but we did get her back in - eventually.

But the calves...they just refused to follow.  We chased them around the huge grazing line where Lichen was born until it was too dark to see and there was no moon.  Then we gave up and hoped they would find their way down.

They didn't.  But it was easier to herd them down in the daylight.  Chestnut and Geranium were frothing at the mouth and hoarse they were so upset at being separated. Chestnut did let herself be distracted by some hay and barley long enough for me to milk the half gallon of milk while Ethan shooed the calves down.  Finally they were reunited!

They did what any other baby would do after being deprived of mama....

Straight for the boobs!

(The milk we got turned out to be very, very thin because Chestnut kept all the cream back!)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Pink Radishes

I pulled some of the radishes that were taking over the beets and salad greens.  This year I tried over-planting radishes with the other root vegetables.  I've heard it helps shelter them and keeps the seeds from washing away.  It didn't seem to work very well, because the radishes took over and shaded out the beets and parsnips, and pulling the ones over the carrots really disrupted the carrots - I had to re-seed them, and they sprouted up right away and look fine now.  Well, I had to try it once.
I love the color of winter radishes.  They look like Easter eggs in the rye grass!  They will likely go into a salad or stir-fry.  We have plenty of radish and pumpkin pickles still to eat.

The kale and salad greens have been fabulous.  The cool weather has made even the arugula sweet.  I'm growing out a bunch of different lettuce varieties for Forage, to try them out and hopefully save seed.  The salads have been amazing.  I love growing all these different kinds.  My favorite of their lettuces has been the Crisp Mint and the Drunken Woman lettuce (the name both appalls me and amuses me, though!).  The Shu Tu Mai, or sword-leaf lettuce (I think that's what it's called) is really sweet and flavorful.  It was one that I planted, and I had misgivings about it, but I will certainly try to save seed and grow it again in my garden.

I had wanted to plant the boring old Vates kale, and was thwarted when it was out of stock, but I really have been enjoying the beautiful purple color of the Scarlet kale I grew instead.  There aren't many flowers that survive all the frosts, and it adds beautiful color and is infinitely more edible for my family than the very pungent, but very beautiful red mustard. 

Last week we enjoyed the first of the broccoli (not pictured, of course, but it was very good), and the cauliflower is beginning to head.  I planted two more rows of various starts like kohlrabi, kale, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower.  I didn't label them in the garden, but I'm getting fairly good at telling them apart once they are larger (I hope).  I brought some more starts out.  These poor guys got forgotten about in the cold frame and didn't get enough sunlight.  These are more Pak Choy and Napa cabbage.

This is what the garden looked like for most of last week!  Brrrr...Monday's rain and warm weather was a nice break from the damp cold.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Work in the Orchard

 I've spent a lot of time in the orchard this winter, pulling weeds from around the trees and blueberry bushes, putting down kelp and lime.  The earliest blueberries are just now putting out their first flowers, and there is even a blossom open on our beloved Snow Queen peach.  All the work has been so good for our poor, neglected orchard.  I felt like it deserved it after all the wonderful peaches and blueberries we got last year (and even a few persimmons).  It is even looking like an orchard - I mean, you can see the fruit trees among the huge dead stalks of dog fennel.

 The nectarine flowers survived even the coldest days so far.  As I was weeding them, a bee stopped by - from somewhere.  It has been nearly a year since our hive died, but it had swarmed each year, so there must be a wild hive close by.  It cheered me up, to see this little golden insect doing its good work.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Star Returned

I forgot to mention before - Star came back.  She looks thinner than before, and we found her gobbling up the rye.  Unlike Trespassers William, she was willing enough to hop back in the electric fence for some oats.

We are re-thinking our pastured pigs.  We've been trying different things to figure out what works for us with our soils and pasture.  We found that in the winter they really tear the pastures up too much because there's no grass to eat, so they are rooting up the grass roots.  But we also really need to give our woodland sacrifice area a break.  We are thinking we need to build three more smallish enclosures where they can stay during times when there's not much to graze or forage.  From there we can let them have pasture access when the grass comes in and when the acorns drop.  It's not ideal, but we need to have some way to control the damage they can do and spread it around so it helps stimulate the pasture, not destroy it.

I had an inspiration as well.  I thought it would be nice to grow some turnips and radishes for them to eat.  They like the greens so much, and they are such easy vegetables to grow.  It would just be all the work...but it would be so wonderful to have fresh vegetables to feed them in the winter, perhaps if we could also grow some field pumpkins during the summer, and store the wild watermelons better.  Something got in and ate them all this year!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Geranium's New Calf

 Geranium missed the date she was AI'd for in December, but she still looked pregnant.  She must have been bred by our bull Explorer.  As Christmas came and went, she looked more and more ready to give birth, we just didn't know when.

Last week her udder started to swell, so we knew it would be soon.  On Thursday evening Ethan was walking up to check on them and bring the dog her food.  I was finishing up with the goats - bringing them back to their pasture after milking, when I heard Ethan calling.  It sounded like he was saying, "The calf was born!"  I ran up as fast as I could (it's quite a ways - they are on the farthest grazing line!).  But the calf was only halfway out.

Sampson and Nutty were close by watching uneasily, reminding me of Clothilde's home birth in our living room.  Mirin and Rose were close by, playing and fighting while I was in labor.  She just lay there for a minute, and then she stood up and gave a big bellow.  The calf was born!

All the other cows were eating hay around the hay ring, but now they all came running over when they heard her call to the calf.  (I was surprised, I thought they would give her space and privacy, but no).  They stood around and stared.  The caul membranes were over the calf's face, and it was struggling.  Geranium began to lick the calf and eat the caul, but I was worried the baby couldn't breathe yet.  Ethan took his knife and cut the thick caul away from it's face, and we heard it snort and breathe.  He also cut away some of the sharp blackberries to make it a little more comfortable for them.

Matilda cautiously sniffed the baby a few times.  (I have a feeling she likes babies, even if she bullies on the ones that aren't her own).  The dog, finished with her food, tried to come over and see the calf, but Geranium sent her off with one very loud and emphatic moo.  Then everyone went back to eating hay, except Nutty, who ran around like an idiot, kicking up his heels.  I think he was glad to have another calf to play with.

It was so dark then, we couldn't see if the new baby was a girl or a boy.  The temperature was dropping - it got quite cold that night, but the calf was nearly dry and was trying to get on its feet by the time we went home. 

The next day we went out and saw the baby was a girl!  She was already running around and playing with Sampson and Nutty.  Geranium is such a great mama.  She's very attentive, but not as hyper-vigilant as Chestnut. 

Welcome little Lichen!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Nature Finds: Lichens

Brrr......we're getting the usual freezing cold January weather.  My uninsulated block house is like an igloo.  The walls are sweating.  The temperatures feel so extreme here.  I think it's the humidity.  The heat is intense, and the cold is also intense!  When I lived in the mountains of North Carolina during the coldest winter of a decade, I thought coming home to Florida for Christmas would be a tropical breeze.  It's true, it was nice and green down here, but I was colder down here than in the snow!  It's the way the cold gets into your bones....

Ethan found some beautiful lichens at the farm.  They seem to grow very well this time of year.  The last picture is of an interesting cocoon on the side of a tree that has a flip top to it

No sign of Star yet...I hope she's okay.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Passed Down Again

I know this is an alarming photo, but rest assured it is only a BB gun, and has a range of about 15 feet.  We are strict with the children and don't just let them wander around with it.  They have to set up a target and a firing line and always be vigilant of the younger siblings.  Never too early to teach gun safety.  

It was Ethan's dad's BB gun back when he was a kid in the 50's.  Ethan used it after that, and then Mirin.  Mirin hasn't used it in quite awhile, but he got it out again the other day.  It turned out that Rose really enjoyed target-shooting with it, and Mirin has declared that he is passing it on to Rose.  He is on to other interests, such as building himself a muzzle loader, a subject which he has been almost insufferable about.  He's carved a powder horn out of Meaty's horn, and has hacked down some good-sized pieces of plum and black cherry that he is carving for it, and doing a beautiful job shaping, sanding and burnishing. He goes out most mornings to work on the project, and then comes in for breakfast, chatting excitedly about all his plans.

It's been a comedy of errors this week.  We started out on Monday back to home schooling, and everything was all set, except the book with all of Rose's first grade math lessons was missing.  I spent a month writing all the stories and drawing all the pictures for it.  It was not replaceable.  I tried not to freak out about it too much, but Mirin got his feelings hurt after a frustrated comment from me about all the clutter everyone else makes in our house (ok, some of it's mine, but not very much).  I searched and searched, went through the trash (in case Clothilde had thrown it away), called Ethan at work, called my mom to ask if she'd seen it at her house.  It had vanished.  I'd just checked on it a day before, and it was right on the shelf where it always is.  I grew up in a house with a clutter vortex, so I am always very careful about where I put my things.  I developed a photographic memory as a child so I could find things again, and I usually don't lose things like that.  It was SO frustrating!  I finally gave it up and tearfully told the first math story from patchy memory.  I don't think Rose was very impressed, despite my uber-crafty hand-painted wooden squirrels.  Later in the day I found it over at my mom's computer desk, underneath a pile of her papers.  Oh, right.  I'd typed up a squirrel poem and printed it out.  It just got sucked into a different clutter vortex than the one at my house.

That afternoon my mom took all three children to Bivens Arm, a swampy park.  Apparently she has a park pass that is going to expire soon.  That was really unfortunate, too.  Rose twisted her ankle on the crappy playground equipment, and they got lost and ended up walking ten miles around a confusing loop.  They were gone for four hours.  By the time they got home, we were late to go out and do the chores, and it was dark by the time we arrived.  Chores in the dark are no fun, but it was especially horrible after Ethan discovered our two sows, Bee and Star, had slipped through their electric fence and were gone.  It put him in a serious mood for the rest of the evening, mostly targeted at my mother for keeping the children so long.  I pointed out how nice it was that she took them, and after all, it was because they got lost.  She didn't mean to mess the chores up.  He replied grimly, "It's dark, the pigs are out, and your mother is cackling somewhere."  They have been feuding since a fireworks disagreement that sprang up over New Year's.

The good news is that on Tuesday Bee was back.  She had let herself back into her old paddock.  She's a pig who knows where her feed bucket comes from.  The bad news on Tuesday was that Trespassers William, our boar, was out.  He moseyed over to the beautiful, luxurious rye field and started gobbling it, the bastard.  It's for my cows and goats - they need it!  He could probably use it, too, but he was pulling it up by the roots.  I had Clothilde in the back pack, and we chased him for goodness knows how long.  He was not in a hurry to leave the rye, and I couldn't run after him very well with Clothilde.  We finally got him away and back to his electrified paddock.  I think I got my week's worth of getting my heart rate up that evening!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


We are back to home-schooling again.  It's another math block - fractions for the first time for the 4th grader, and introduction to the four processes for first grade.  I wanted to have some cute little wooden figures to help with the four processes, but buying beautiful Waldorf-inspired carved figures was cost-prohibitive ( would have cost like a million dollars!  Well, only $45, but I can think of so many other things I'd rather spend it on).  I almost sculpted some out of beeswax, but the thought of Clothilde gnawing the head off of the owl while I was distracted with something stopped me.  So I am rather proud of my little math kit we made.

I made a pattern on paper for the squirrels and the owl, and Ethan cut them out of little useless scraps lying around in the warehouse at work.  I borrowed Mirin's carving knife to trim all the sharp edges, and then I painted them with the kids' Lyra watercolor set, and oiled them with some tallow and olive oil.  Not too complicated, although Ethan did leave me stranded in front of Ward's (local grocery store) for forty minutes while he was cutting them out.  It wasn't entirely all his fault.  Buying all of the eight items on my grocery list did not take the hour it usually takes to accomplish with the three children, so the amount of time was way overestimated for the shopping trip.

It wasn't TOO horrible.  The kind check-out ladies took pity on me and lent me a chair, and he did show up before the rain started.  I had forgotten the creepy attention women get from older men when out on their own.  I guess I have not yet gotten too old to avoid it.  My children must usually drive them away.

He had all three children, meanwhile, who were little beasts while he was working on it.  Rose was having one of her Pink Witch tantrums, and kicked him as he was cutting the tail on one (don't imagine that Mirin was innocently standing by - he was encouraging her).  It needs a little help standing up now, and Ethan suggested it is called Rose, because its legs don't work.  This was a common affliction for her when she was younger.  Another one turned out with a funny bit suggestively in the crotch, so it has been labeled a boy squirrel.  It's okay, since my kids are used to distinguishing genders on animals.

Even so,  I think they will make this math block lots of fun, and I'm not sure if I will ever buy any more little wooden figures.  They are so easy to make at home, provided there's someone handy to cut them out, and no one is having a tantrum.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Day Without Shadows

Sunday was one of those gray, misty days without shadows.  The prospect of rain was hovering over us, and we went out early and worked until the first drops began splattering down.  I weeded the fruit trees and mulched them.  Moving the old hay into the wheelbarrow with a pitchfork gave me an odd sense of Deja Vu.  Of course I've done that kind of thing before, but this was different.  I'm not sure what it means.

I had an epiphany the other day while I was doing the same task.  It's fairly repetitive, and making sure I've scraped up every good bit of old, moldy hay and manure almost gives me a headache in the same way that tedious, focused tasks always do.  Things like counting stitches on a gauge swatch for knitting.  Or carefully ripping out messed-up stitches of a sewing project.  De-pilling a sweater.  Picking lots of hay out of Mirin's hair.  Those kinds of things.  My back was hurting, and it felt like toiling.  My goodness, I thought to myself.  Some people pay good money to do things like this in a gym.  What if I were taking a funky dance class right now?  Or if I were working on my upper body sculpting for the sake of vanity?  Totally different mind-set.  It made me laugh to myself and totally changed the way my back and shoulders were all tensed up.  I have cultural mindset issues about good, honest work.

Speaking of which, Ethan made lots of progess on his holiday vacation.  Three new chicken coops, which will soon house our new poultry for the year.  A new batch of layers (we only have six of the old hens left - I've been buying eggs.  I'm such a difficult customer, too, I don't like any of the ones in the store).  Then our meat birds for the year, and a batch of turkeys for the holidays.

Monday, January 5, 2015


The holiday is at an end - here we are, back to the grind of home-schooling.  Not that it is particularly grind-like, but at times I've made it that way for myself.

Nutty is out with the herd at last, and seems to be enjoying it.  He and Sampson are great buddies.  I thought surely Sampson would pick on him, but they are always together, playing and grooming each other.  There was one sweet day when they were curled up napping one afternoon in a bed of soft fallen hay around the hay ring.  And Matilda, for once, has been shockingly nice.  I haven't seen her kick him once.  I wonder if he smells like her son, Explorer.  He is her grandcalf, and she seems to know.  He has also surprised us by staying in the electric fence.

The day we moved everyone out, he ducked under the brain-cage of un-electrified wire and was running all over the place.  We had quite a time getting him back with everyone, and meanwhile he got a nice, sharp shock on the nose when he was trying to jump through the pig fence.  It seems to have been a "teachable moment."  He hasn't gotten out since.

Flora appears to be pregnant, and Geranium as well, although the dates we wrote down don't seem to be correct, so who knows when new babies will appear.  It looks like it's going to be an exciting spring.

Friday, January 2, 2015

In the Kitchen: Halupki (stuffed cabbage)


The savoy cabbage in the garden isn't ready yet, but I used a beautiful head of Chinese cabbage and made Halupki.  It wasn't quite the same, but it was a decent home-grown substitute.  I learned how to make it from my French grandmother, who learned it from her Slovenian mother-in-law, my great-grandmother Anna.

1 1/2 lbs ground beef or pork
1 egg
A head of Chinese cabbage, the tough outer leaves stripped off
salt and pepper
2 cups of cooked rice (I cooked mine with broth)
1-2 Tablespoons of dried majoram
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cups of pureed tomatoes
1 quart of stock

In a large bowl mix the ground meat, egg, and rice and season with salt, pepper, and the dried herbs.  Pull the leaves off of the cabbage and set aside.  Take a blob of meat/rice and place at the top of a cabbage leaf.  Roll the leaf up, tucking in the sides, and place in a large pot.  When all the filling has been used up, mix the tomato puree and stock, season with salt and pepper, and pour into the large pot over the stuffed cabbage.  Put the lid on and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the cabbage is soft and the meat filling is cooked.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

I'll be honest - 2014 was a tough year.  I think starting off the first week of January with whooping cough made a really bad start!  And it was the Year of the Horse, supposedly a bad year for us Rats.  It wasn't really a bad year.  Just intense, and I kept hurting myself and getting sick.  But at the end I feel on the mend. 

The rye is up and growing well, and that's something to be thankful for.  It's a little patchy in places, but it will fill in as it gets bigger.  The cows and goats are going to love it.

The pigs are out on pasture, and Ethan has been cranking out new moveable chicken coops for this year's pastured poultry.  AND we found a super cheap way to put tons of lime on the pastures.  Yay!

I think that part of the reason it's seemed like a tough year is that we turned thirty.  Maybe I'm not old and decrepit yet.  Maybe it's just having a 2-year old.  But thirty feels so old.  I knew it would, too.  I think I should have things together by thirty, and yet...this year I've felt like I have less "together" than ever before!  It's been a year of change.  Somethings I thought I would always like, I'm finding don't appeal to me anymore.  I'm finding myself thinking wistfully of things I left behind in my mid-twenties, when I moved on to other interests.

2015 - I have so many dreams for you.  Dreams of writing, watercolor painting, traveling to France, and big gardens.